“Sidney Offit has devised a marvelous mirror of his unique personality as well as a one of a kind tour of the New York literary world in the last half century. Anyone even faintly interested in books will find it impossible to put down.”---Thomas Fleming, bestselling author of Liberty! The American Revolution
Sidney Offit’s charming memoir of a writer’s life ingeniously reflects some of the greatest (and most infamous) literary, political, and sports personalities of our century. His early days in Baltimore (where he met H. L. Mencken and entertained Robert Frost) are as engaging as his later encounters with Dylan Thomas, John Steinbeck, Pablo Neruda, Heinrich Böll, and some of the era’s greatest ballplayers: Robinson, Mantle, Mays, and Williams.
Mixing with a remarkable and diverse crowd, led Sidney to run-ins and adventures with Truman Capote (“What kind of guy are you?”), Jackie Kennedy (in a corner), Kurt Vonnegut (who identified Sidney as his “best friend”), the incomparable Toni Morrison, and other bards, muses, and just plain folk. Their conversations are recalled with gentle humor and a keen eye for a New York where casual and spontaneous encounters may shape what the country reads or where a stroll around the corner can change a life.
Praise for Sidney Offit's "Friends, Writers, and Other Countrymen":
“It is possible that Sidney Offit knows more famous and interesting people than anyone else on earth, and what is more, has a funny and shrewdly observed story about each of them.... He is truly 20th Century New York City’s answer to Samuel Pepys.”---Michael Korda, author of Charmed Lives and Ike
“Sidney Offit was the man. He was there.... For more than a half century Offit has interacted with one big cheese after another. And now he recounts to our utter glee, what he saw, did, and heard. Sid pushes the reader---already satiated---to the greedy expectation after each chapter of: who’s next?”--- Barry Beckham, author of My Main Mother
“What a wonderful book—as they say in Dublin, “I couldn’t leave it down!” His novelist’s eye, boundless generosity of spirit, and robust delight in the strenuous pleasures of metropolitan life are evident on every page of this irresistible memoir by a perennially youthful gentleman of letters.”--Joel Connaroe, President Emeritus, J.S. Guggenheim Foundation
“[Sidney Offit’s] latest contribution to American letters is wise, intimate and historically invaluable. I gulped it down with amazement. Offit made me laugh. And in just one sentence, he made me cry…I love every word. I even love the commas. But most of all, I love a big-hearted gentleman curious about people who writes like an angel.”--Patricia Volk, author of To My Dearest Friends
“This astonishing memoir proves that if you know Sidney Offit, as I do, you are no more than one degree of separation from everybody you ever heard of, and I mean Pearl Buck, Sly Stallone, Borges, Pele....”---Roy Blount Jr. Long Time Leaving: Dispatches From Up South
“This book stands in the first rank of American autobiographies, and gives us a matchless contribution to our recent social and cultural history.”---Charles Bracelen Flood, Former President, PEN, American Center.
“More than a memoir about the writers life, this is a book about how at their best writers speak and dream for us all.”---Marita Golden author of After
“Knowing Sid has been one of the great pleasures of my life—he is unique in today’s world: a true man-about-town, but one who views his friends and acquaintances with the greatest generosity and compassion.”---Mary Pope Osborne, author of The Magic Tree House series
“Offit has been as important to American arts and letters as any of those to whom he characteristically defers. He is our wise and cheerful host. And the nation’s writers would be lost without him.”---Roger Rosenblatt, author of Lapham Rising and Beet
“There’s a rumor that if you wake Sidney in the middle of the night, he sticks out his hand and says, “Nice to meet you!” In this warm, funny book, Sidney’s gregarious spirit goes rollicking through the pages as he introduces the reader to one fascinating character after another.”---James Stevenson, author, cartoonist, originator of Lost and Found New York
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Sidney Offit has written two novels, ten books for young readers, and Memoir of a Bookie’s Son. He was senior editor of Intellectual Digest, book editor of Politics Today, and contributing editor of Baseball Magazine. For more than three decades he has served on the boards of the Authors Guild and PEN, American Center as curator of the George Polk Journalism Awards. Mr. Offit and his wife, Avodah, a psychiatrist and writer, live in New York City, within walking distance of their five grandchildren’s families.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Friends, Writers, and Other Countrymen
I Random Encounters from JHU to NYC: 1940s and 1950s 1 H. L. Mencken: Lessons in Smoking and First-Edition Best Bets Circa 1946 I learned about smoking and collecting from H. L. Mencken by way of Ellen Glasgow. When I returned to Baltimore from Wayne, Pennsylvania, during the years I attended the Valley Forge Military Academy, 1942 to 1946, I had few friends and, with the exception of my kid brother Benson, no one with whom to share enthusiasms. One of my classmates had mentioned the novels of a Virginian friend of his family--Ellen Glasgow. John Copley Travis, whom I considered the most literary and sophisticated of my chums, spoke about his father's collection of first editions. These slight references were all the inspiration I needed at the age of sixteen to become a collector of Ellen Glasgow first editions. This hobby mystified both my mother, who loved books but saw no particular virtue in the rarity of the edition, and my dad, whose reading was restricted to the racing form and the local papers. Nonetheless, my mother didn't discourage me and my father bankrolled my passion with a modest investment. I would walk from our family's apartment on Lake Drive past the islands of grass on Park Avenue, across the busy intersection at North Avenue. Then I'd cut over the railroad bridge to Charles Street and continue on to the Peabody Book Shop, where it was not only possible to search through used books but also to sit in a pleasant atrium and feast on bratwurst, knockwurst, German potato salad, and a mug of local beer. It was at Smith's Books on Howard Street, however, that I began my Glasgow collection and often encountered Henry L. Mencken. I recall a portly, shining face, hair parted in the middle, mouth engaged with a corncob pipe or cigar as he chatted with Mr. Smith. I recognized Mr. Mencken from my childhood. In the thirties my father was one of Baltimore's most successful bookmakers. Although his professional talents were unknown to me at the time, I was aware that on our Sunday outings we visited the best restaurants and hotel dining rooms in town. My father seemed to be known by everyone. Bartenders, headwaiters, the best-dressed guests, and certainly every man smoking a cigar greeted him. Although there was little conversation, I detected an unmistakable respect, even reverence in their regards. Not exactly so with Mr. Mencken. As we made our way to the main dining room of the Rennert Hotel, he would be sitting at the bar with a cigar over a drink and as we passed he would acknowledge my father with a vaguely amused nod of the head or a chipper "How do you do?" My mother always identified him: "That's H. L. Mencken. He's a newspaper man." I had heard that my father sold newspapers on the streets of Baltimore when he was eight years old and made enough money to contribute to the support of his five brothers and sister. My dad, too, smoked cigars from time to time, so I assumed H. L. Mencken, like my dad, stood on street corners hustling papers. That impression was so indelible it remained even after my mother later expressed admiration for the magazines Smart Set and American Mercury, or quoted two of the more famous wrap-ups to his "The Free Lance" columns in The Baltimore Sun--"Swat the fly ... Boil your drinking water." I felt sufficiently comfortable with this vague but "historic" connection that I began to mimic the "Sage of Bawlamer" by plunking a cigar in my mouth when visiting Smith's. I'm not sure if Mr. Mencken was in the shop when I purchased my first edition of Glasgow's In This Our Life, but I do recall he celebrated my acquisition of Vein of Iron by passing along to me a free cigar and the advice, "Never relight a stogie once it dies on you, my boy. Read the message from above and treat yourself to another blessing from below." That was not all I learned. After I lit up, he suggested with a voice that remains in my memory a blend of W. C. Fields and Winston Churchill, "You'd be better advised to collect Willa Cather." FRIENDS, WRITERS, AND OTHER COUNTRYMEN. Copyright © 2008 by Sidney Offit. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
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